Making good on a promise issued on Tuesday night, a Facebook user claiming to be a long-time CNRP activist posted new recordings yesterday afternoon of salacious phone conversations purported to be between opposition leader Kem Sokha and his alleged mistress.
However, while the first batch of recordings were presented as having originated with the woman herself – being posted to a Facebook page belonging to a user called “Mon Srey” – yesterday’s leaks seemingly abandoned that pretence, raising more questions as to the origins of the recordings.
The new recordings were first posted to a page called the Truth of the CNRP. Both it and Mon Srey’s page appear to have been created on Sunday. When the first links went up on Mon Srey’s page on Monday night, they appeared on Truth of the CNRP just 30 minutes later, and on a seemingly affiliated blog – also created on Sunday – at about the same time.
In posts made on Sunday, before the release of the first recordings, the administrator of Truth of CNRP refers to himself as a friend of jailed party official Meach Sovannara, and slams party leadership for their perceived shortcomings.
“No one has more romantic relationships than Kem Sokha, who runs with no direction like Sam Rainsy,” he said in the Sunday post.
“Nothing is more painful than get tricked by politicians.”
Yesterday, the administrator – whose profile picture is of a masked CNRP supporter – stepped up the rhetoric, saying in text accompanying one recording that Sokha “likes women more than he likes the nation”, before accusing him of being derelict in his duty and asking rhetorically, “Is this politician the hope of the nation?”
The latest recordings are similar to those previously released, detailing intimate meetings and alluding to sexual trysts between a woman and a man that sounds remarkably similar to the Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy president.
On Monday, early files posted revealed several flirtatious exchanges between the man and woman, before the woman becomes frantic in later conversations as the recordings begin circulating in the media. The orchestrated nature of the leaks, as well as indications that the source is a third party, raised questions for several commentators.
“It appears too well organised to be a standalone thing by a young woman, the victim of this,” said Ou Virak, the founder of political think tank the Future Forum.
Nevertheless, he continued, the political consequences for the opposition would be limited.
Referring to a similar case in the lead-up to the 2013 elections, when Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly claimed to have more evidence of extramarital affairs among CNRP leaders, Virak said efforts to discredit the opposition had “backfired” when the public chose to ignore the allegations, preferring to concentrate on political issues.
“Not just ignore them completely, but actually turned it around and looked at it as a ploy to divert discussions or other debates,” he said.
The CNRP yesterday continued to refuse to be drawn into the matter. Party spokesman Yem Ponhearith could not be reached, multiple calls to Sokha went unanswered and party president Sam Rainsy did not respond to a request for comment.
The only statement issued by the party yesterday pertained to a routine schedule of speeches and province trips for Sokha.
Meanwhile, the seeming involvement of a third party in the leaks only intensified speculation as to whether the recordings had been obtained illegally.
As the scandal began to break on Tuesday, opposition lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang posted on his Facebook page Article 301 of the Cambodian Criminal Code, which decrees that listening to or recording private or confidential speech is a punishable offence, except in instances where it has been authorised by law.
The lawmaker’s post has since been taken down, but when briefly reached yesterday, he reiterated his stance, but declined to comment further.
Khov Mamara, a spokesman for the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, said his ministry was not legally allowed to record private calls, nor did it have the technical ability to do so.
“Whether the recording of private speeches is legal or not, it depends on if there is consent from the parties involved,” he said.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman yesterday said that any phone taps would have to be authorised through a court order.
Mamara suggested that telecom companies had the capacity to monitor and record calls, but a long-time telecommunications insider yesterday disputed that.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the person said that while telcos aren’t able to tap phones, the Ministry of Interior was able to with its “legal interception” system, which all telcos were forced to allow them to install.
A government spokesman denied such a system existed.
When asked in general terms yesterday about the legal requirements needed to tap a phone, Ministry of Interior spokesperson Khieu Sopheak replied, “Why do you want that information . . . as a clue?” before declining to comment in further detail.
“The Phnom Penh Post wants Cambodia to become the next Syria,” he added. “The US is the father of democracy and they tap the phones of other leaders – quote me on that.”